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IoT Manufacturing: The Rise of Automated Systems and Wiser Ways to Manage

By Arti Loftus February 20, 2020

In heavily equipped, large and often complex manufacturing facilities, instrumenting assets to track an optimize them is non-trivial. In fact, implementing connected systems designed to improve the efficiency and “flow” inside factories or outdoors in harsh conditions, including on large farms or construction sites, has been so difficult in the early days of Industrial IoT (IIoT) that many projects have been abandoned as simply too hard to make work.

WISER Systems, a real-time asset tracking company, headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, is out to change that and have been succeeding, according to their team, using their Redundant Radio Localization and Tracking (RRLT) technology for indoor-outdoor positioning at industrial scale. The company serves customers with autonomous locating needs in complex environments across industries, including Aerospace, Retail, Oil and Gas, Automotive, Manufacturing, Warehousing / Logistics, Government, and the U.S. Military.

Last week at IoT Evolution Expo, Logan Maxwell, Solutions Engineer at WISER, demonstrated the company’s Locator system, which Maxwell explained is different in that it “…operates without a direct line-of-sight between antennas and tracker tags. This helps make our installations more flexible and affordable. This is especially important for manufacturing environments where line-of-sight requirements could add huge numbers of devices—and huge costs as a consequence. We’ve taken this even a step further in the latest version of our software by implementing a GPS-staking feature that allows continuous global visibility even in settings like factories where GPS doesn’t work accurately.”

Maxwell explained that every manufacturer understands the costs and the headache of losing critical assets, and some have been burned when trying to implement cumbersome manual processes to prevent asset loss. “We help these manufacturers lower downtime and eliminate inefficiencies through automation of manual processes like scanning, data entry, and asset location,” Maxwell said. “We also provide quantification of movement of tagged assets so that manufacturers can optimize their processes with real data from their own floor.”

Since nearly every factory involves hundreds or thousands of moving parts, it’s easy to find examples where they can save time, improve operations, bolster worker safety, and cut down on unneeded costs, Maxwell said.

“Hollywood makes it look like this kind of real-time location system (RTLS) is easy,” he continued. “The fact is, this is actually a very young industry, and it’s challenging to deliver real-time location data. On the flip side, RTLS end-users who have worked with these technologies early on—say 20 years ago—have often seen more system failures than successes, so they’re sometimes dubious that location systems will ever work. However, even with only a few years of actual real-time location and asset tracking, manufacturers are finding huge benefits from technologies like WISER’s.”

Maxwell shared an example where one of their customers was losing nearly 100 technician work hours each month, just checking tools in or out or looking for tools that had been misplaced.

“This customer also had to pause quite a few operations if a tool went missing because there was a high risk of tools being left in areas that could cause damage and even life-threatening accidents,” Maxwell said. “With a little work, though, we were able to eliminate check-in and check-out paperwork and show a point-by-point of where any such tool was at any time.”

The company has also emphasized simplicity for customers, with an interface that allows customers to adjust the system without bringing an electrician or engineer on-site, or flying a technical expert in. “We’ve refined the solution so much that our customers can fine-tune the system themselves, often getting tracking performance even beyond what we expected. We have also had great success with brownfield implementations – meaning we can help our customers leverage their existing infrastructure, which is a huge advantage when validating the system.”

To date, the company has received both Phase I and II Small Business Innovation and Research grants from the United States Department of Agriculture, as well as North Carolina State University’s prestigious Daugherty Endowment for Entrepreneurship. WISER won 1st place in the Industrial Internet of Things category at IoT World 2017, Phase I, II, and III awards in the U.S. Army’s inaugural Expeditionary Technology Search (2018) and was a top 10 finalist in NASA’s global iTech competition (2019). The company also participates in the Chevron Technology Ventures Catalyst Program.

Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Special Correspondent

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